Who was your first customer?
When we opened, [the first Tender Greens restaurant in Culver City, Calif.] we had a line out the door the first day. Many of them are still loyal customers.
You have seven restaurants under your belt. Why don’t you go the franchise route instead of expanding on your own?
It was an option. In the context of the Tender Greens brand and what it takes to run a company and tracking other start-ups, we saw how other restaurants expanded rapidly and lost control of their brand. Sometimes brands franchise just to grow, and there is definitely a danger in Tender Greens losing its brand mojo, control and message.
When we open a new location, we reach out to our network for chef friends and acquaintances to find an executive who would be a fit for the neighborhood they’re opening in. With each new location, an executive chef has the freedom to express their culinary creativity in special projects and daily specials. They offer fine-dining quality and technique for casual dining prices. We want to protect the brand quality and culture, so we were hesitant to hand it off to anyone on the outside.
When did you know the company would be a success?
We were at that stage in our lives where we were able to take risks, and if we failed we would recover. We were unique during June 2006m and were comfortable that people would respond. By the third week, we knew we were onto something. We were busy day and night.
Three more stores this year, including ones in La Jolla, Calif., and Orange County, Calif. We plan to open four to five annually after that. We are also looking into other states. New York City is a place we’ve been talking about for some time.
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